Car doors, striped seaperch and stitches
BROOKINGS — In a remarkably short time period, COVID-19 has shut the door on so many things. Without warning or premise, circumstances beyond our control have paused the very lives we took for granted. From seniors with acne to seniors with arthritis, the toll this virus has taken reaches far beyond the number of infected, the mounting death toll or the hobbled economy. Already, it has had permanent, unassailable repercussions in the lives of everyone.
Tragically, the young people I saw in my classroom won't be remembered for all they accomplished this spring, as the class that won state or put on the great play. They'll be remembered as the class that was cheated out of playoff basketball games, spring sports, the spring play, DECA and HOSA and FFA and FBLA competitions, musical concerts, the prom and maybe even graduation. It's devastating. These events and milestones, these essential pieces of the high school experience are just ... gone.
College students miss half a year of their lives, facing the same aching loss. Those employed will be forced to work from home if they're lucky or find themselves unemployed in the sweeping economic downturn if not. I have friends cancelling weddings, people delaying or postponing the vacations they've waited and work for their entire lives. The loss of experience is numbing.
Older folks, more susceptible to the virus as it is, are being trampled in the mad dash to stock up on toilet paper because apparently diarrhea is a side effect of mass hysteria.
It doesn't even end for those ill-fated enough to die in these trying times, as many will be denied what has long been the final promise of civilized life (barring estate tax): a funeral.
Seeing so much suffering, I needed an escape. I could see the writing on the wall, and the bitter finality of what was to come, so I planned to take last weekend, my final window of opportunity, and head to the coast.
As I jumped through the window, I failed to see the closing door.
I arrived in Brookings mid-morning last Saturday, threw on my waders, loaded up my bait bucket and slammed the back door of my car shut with my right hand, realizing an instant too late that my left hand was resting on the sill. The door closed with a sickening crunch. It had smashed my thumb, closing all the way.
I pulled out the maimed appendage to see a deep, bloody gash tracing a drunken line from the inside of the knuckle to the top of the thumb, just below the nail. My skin had been peeled down past the fatty tissue, and it was spurting blood like the victims of that demented rabbit in that old scene from the 1975 classic, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" but with markedly less coconuts. Some coconuts, just less.
Horrified I'd broken it or severed a nerve or tendon, I tentatively moved it. It moved, but it hurt enough that I used profanity as nouns, verbs, adjectives and (my mind was a bit addled, so I may be misremembering this), an adverb.
Hurriedly, I loaded the car, stripped off my waders, and prayed frantically while I was soaked in a cold sweat. Nothing was broken. No tendon or nerve damage — just five stitches as I looked around an entirely empty emergency room.
I was out in several hours' time, my left hand a gauze-wrapped monstrosity, and I couldn't help but hold it up like Buster Bluth (from TV's "Arrested Development") and scream "I'm a monster!" to which the lady across the parking lot, whom I'd failed to notice, scowled.
Then it hit me. No, not the door. Not a second time. A realization: what if this had happened a week later? What if the waiting room had been filled with sick people waiting for treatment, and in my haste, I'd cost someone a bed?
I moved past it.
The high tide had passed by the time I left the ER that day, and I spent the rest of the weekend surfcasting at high tide and microfishing tidepools at low tide. Though keeping my bandaged thumb dry and trying to work a reel was trying, so are the times in which we're living.
After hiking down to a few remote stretches of beach nearly a mile from the respective parking areas, I caught a few striped seaperch and calico surfperch in the company of just a gray whale that surfaced remarkably close to the beach and a sea otter that was diligently digging for sand crabs in the surf.
I'd seen a window and taken it. Sure, a door had been slammed shut on me as a result, but that's life.
In the coming days, more doors will shut, but if we let this virus compromise who we are and what we do with the time we have, we'll walk away losing more than the potential for hand modeling.
As Oregonians respond and adjust to the "Stay at Home" order, closed businesses and a limited scope of outdoor facilities, I encourage you to be creative with your outdoor activities. Hike into a remote stretch of river and fish. Watch birds in your backyard. Walk to the top of the hill behind your house. Do it alone and be safe.
I don't know how long this will last, and I'm not encouraging people to go against the governor's orders, but before COVID-19, people let life get in the way of living. All I ask is that you don't let fear of dying get in the way of living, either, because you never know if you'll go out with a cough, a bang or the slam of a door. Stay alive, but don't forget to live.
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